Category Archives: Musing

Renewal

It’s not enough to want to write. It’s not enough to write in your head–although that is usually very good writing.  Why do I write?  I’m not a good speller. I am a lousy proofreader.  My English methodology is sketchy at best.  And Latin did not help.

 Attending the NYC mid winter conference last weekend was that push to sit down and write.  New York in February is not my ideal trip.  It’s cold. Sometimes blizzardly cold, no clean air….

I’m late in doing this. The conference was 10 days ago. And yet. I had things to get done before I could, shoot, I hate that word–process, but yes. Turn it over in my mind, figure out how and what to say.

This I know. I must write. I am not a huge fan of the inspirational keynote that lets us in on the successful writer’s/illustrator’s life.  I have no connection with how they get there and where they started. I want the keynote of the person who looks at writing and brings their passion to the fore

This is my year of renewal. No. More repurposing.  I’m at that place between getting a request for a full and hearing nothing afterward. I have this character, a cozy mystery.  I was told that mysteries are a ‘dime a dozen.’ Definitely not what I wanted to hear.

Keynotes. Intensives.  Seeing friends. Discussing writing. Let me tell you what I get out of the international conferences.

Depends.

This year a lot hit home. While it was interesting to hear the story of Jarrett Krosoczka, and to hear Christopher Paul Curtis cruise through his childhood but it was the passion and fire, the language and oratory of Elizabeth Acevedo that took my breath away.  

I have no connection to her story, her history, the society in which she grew up. But I was stunned by the acuity of her phrasing, the depth of her commitment to her writing life, and the confidence by which she communicated.  Would that we could bottle all of that and give it to those kids who don’t get that whatever—love, support, or just plain belief in oneself tattooed on her spine.  What a gift! 

This year, more than in those past, I got a lot out of the intensives. I learned about the four faces of a character. I re-learned classic POV, tropes. Revisited Aristotle. About tent pole moments, the diagram of narrative nonfiction. To discover what is at stake in a nonfiction story, using prologues and epilogues. and Zotero and sprinting and the Pomodoro method of writing.

and I signed up for a mentorship program. “About time”, said Tom. And I agree.

The swallows….

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker. A little research led me to the fact that it wasn’t until 1955 that Pius the XII declared March 19 his feast day. Hmmm, right smack dab in the middle of the twentieth century. How about that!

Besides fond memories of Capistrano in March (usually cold, well cold to a southern Californian)   I always thought of this as my dad’s feast day. There is a Saint James, the Apostle. His feast day is in July. But Mom always said this was dad’s. I think it was to drill into our adorable little heads that it was dad’s work that brought us all that we had. His dedication to the ethic of providing for his family was important, this was a way, as catholics we could honor dad. As a matter of fact when dad retired, none of us had a clue what he was going to do, until he told us he was going to fish. We were amazed. We had never seen dad fish, heard him talk about fishing, zip, nada, nothing.

And then he told us that as a child, his grandfather taught him to tie flies, wrap a rod and then go fishing in one of the lakes near Scranton PA. And that’s exactly what he did. He went to fishing camps in New England and in Northern CA.  He made his own pole rest so he could wrap a rod. Used the down from a duck I shot in the bay off Provincetown to make flies. He was, as always, meticulous, exact, tidy and patient.

When I was young the swallows returning to Capistrano was considered a miracle in honor of St. Joseph. They probably have a very scientific explanation for it now! Me? I prefer to think of it as a miracle–one that continually reminds me of my dad and how incredible he was!

from…..

Think on it: Ireland in the mid 1800’s ruled by English overlords as British plantations assaulting the Catholic religion and Irish culture. Congo, at the turn of the century, the personal fiefdom of the despot Leopold II thoughtlessly annihilating  the native civilizations that already existed. The economic and cultural failure of the Weimar Republic giving rise to the totalitarianism of the National Socialist Party and almost consuming western Europe in death and destruction. The rise of communism enveloping eastern European countries oppressively almost wiping out previously thriving nations. The dictatorships of Idi Amin and Joseph Mubuto in Africa. Today, the dysfunctional government of Yemen, the civil war in Syria, the socialistic driven collapse of the Venezuelan economy, the drug cartels of Mexico, the graft and corruption in Haiti.   And, none of this includes the impact of the sometimes unnamed apartheid systems western civilization imposed during the Empire Era and continued to impose  on countries that provided them with goods and wealth.

Are you saying, wait, what, Ireland? I know, I know,  rolling green country side, lovely castles, quaint villages. Not a country you would think of as awful, but it was.  My family is from Co. Mayo, which was a British stronghold.  I like to think of it as a ‘rebel’ county. My greats and grands, like many of our ancestors, immigrated to the US because they were denied their basic freedoms; individually, culturally, religiously, ethnically. America looked like a place they could be Irish and more, or for others, be Jewish and more, or be Indian and more. Mine came during the Great Potato Famine, no history lesson here. One million died, one million emigrated.

I love that I am an American. I am grateful that my ancestors sought a different place that would provide a different outcome than the one they faced in Ireland. I have always hoped that I would be that brave. That I could, would, leave behind the gawd-awful aspects of my home country and forge a new life under a new set of rules, one that provided more of, well, of just about everything I cherish about being human. And I am proud that I still love my Irish heritage. My heritage is different from the country, think of it as its soul!

I want this sort of realism to imbue my writing. Middle grade should be a time to understand charity. Not the charity of gifting, donating either time or money. The charity that is love, a love of a better future. That’s what our ancestors did, in love they left behind all they had known for the unknown. All that was familiar for the unfamiliar. Maybe they had to learn a new language. Maybe they were discriminated against when they came here. The Irish certainly were! But they held on. They made it better. I want it to ring true as much for me as for readers. 

Forward….

At mass last night, Father Sheridan stated this is a good time to make resolutions for the coming year. [Father said he makes the same one every year, ‘to clean out his refrigerator’, yep, a good laugh for the congregation]  Well.  Maybe.  Liturgically we’ve already started our year. In some cultures the new year began in spring, which makes a lot of sense. I guess we can thank the Gregorian Calendar, and Julius Caesar, for straightening the way we pay attention to how our small ‘blue marble’ goes around our star, Sol.

I think if we could vote, I’d vote for new year in spring. First off, it would be warmer for all the parades. You would not have to wear your entire closet in order to go outside. I’d like that. Okay, I admit it. Cold is not my friend, especially these fifteen and twenty degree temps we are seeing even in NC. A temperature of at least 60? All right, today I’d take 50 degrees.

But here’s the thing, cold does not inspire me to run out and work at anything. I’d be happy to be warm, under a lovely blanket, next to a nice fire, with a brandy or maybe a whiskey, yeah, even a hot chocolate! This is hibernation time. This is bundle up time.

Still. Not a bad time to move forward. I’ve been reading a lot. I picked up Hallie Ephron’s book at the suggestion of a beta reader. And I’m glad I did. It’s not new stuff. I’ve seen it before. I belong to Sisters in Crime. A wonderful organization for the fan as well as for the writer. And through my local chapter of Murder We Write I have had the honor and privilege of knowing Chris Roerden. Actually, one of my stories is cited in this version.

Besides reading about writing a great mystery, I’ve been reading a number of mysteries, just to see how they go through the mystery.  As an aside, I use the North Carolina Digital Library and I use Book Bub to get books for the kindle. One that I recently read was interesting. The mystery was thought out, the settings were realistic, the dialogue was good when it worked. This was an independently published book, the author is Canadian and this matters. Why? Because while the initial setting is in Ottawa and the Canadian aspect of character development is good, [this was published in 2014] there were inconsistencies that took me out of the story. Additionally, the book needed serious editing. One whole chapter was repeated in the first book. The same phrase for emotion was used for three characters, and there were whole sections of the story that gave it length, but added nothing to advance the mystery, the thrill or the suspense. For something written in 2014 there was no use of a cell phone [do they not have them in Canada :)?]

You can learn from the good and the not so good. I already have comments from one beta reader and awaiting from the second. Yay, revision! Good times!

 

Fragile

It has been a different and traumatic new year than the one I envisioned in the most recent post. While it looked pretty ordinary it has turned into something extraordinary.

Tom’s neck trauma has changed our life. I am now proposing only one car, building ramps, engaging home help, buying new beds, and remodeling our bathroom. Some of this was already on my list, most definitely some was not.  Admittedly I am not the best person to be a caregiver; I am impatient. And while I will be Tom’s primary caregiver, I am also his other half, he is my better half.  The impatience is not a result of the speed of our times, this is me, just ask the girls. While I do understand pain, I don’t understand how you don’t just plow through it. Sigh. Yes, I know there are pains you can not plow through.

This makes me think about my writing, the fragility of  emotions,  values and wants of a character. Many of us of, ahem! a certain age do not understand letting feeling rule. For me it is about reason, order, making the best of a situation and always trying to be the best. It is not about what my flaws and failings are, god knows [small g, of course] that they are legion! Yep. I am pretty sure I know them all, and probably a few no one even had an inkling about.

But what about my character? Feelings are important. Yes. But sometimes I feel like I am in a stage drama when I read a story where the wants and needs of the character are insistently on display. Yes, I find it annoying. I get it, but still it is annoying.  A recent quote in the WSJ on Theater states that theater is the act of pretending. True, this article is more about the ‘theater’ of political discourse,  linguist, John McWhorter states, “Nobody is hurt in that immediate, lasting and intolerable way by some words that a person stands up and addresses…to an audience at a microphone.” 

Writing a novel about a character is also an act of pretending. So why do we allow our feelings and that of our characters to be so fragile. Feelings are not hurt by a punch in the stomach, the stomach is. Feelings are not impacted by a fall, nope, it is the bones or in Tom’s case the neck and the spinal cord. We humans are fragile. We can not be pounded, beaten, shot, fall without some damage and that increases as we get older. Yet our feelings probably should not be so fragile if we want to exist in this world, make this whole thing work, this civilization~ laws, government, discourse. We must allow our characters to be themselves, some may emote like a Sarah Bernhardt, and some may be stoic like a, hmmm, this is hard, who recently is stoic?

So, where am I going with this? Hmm. I think I want to be somewhere in-between, with a character that has both feelings and is willing to keep them in, not on display and not emoting.

I think in someways that is Emily Pouverain Delaqua in Becoming the Only. Raised by a grandmother because her mother died when she was three, she is content with being reasonable and rational until her grandmother suddenly dies and her father is arrested for the murder. She is able to keep her emotions in check because she is able to confide in a journal and an imaginary friend, Star Ann. And with those emotions in check she can concentrate on saving her inheritance and finding the real murderer.

Ah, but will it sell.